Family Fundamentals: Organize financial records in case of emergency

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A friend’s father passed away last year. She later remarked that it was a big relief to find he had left his financial records organized and easy for her to find. I’m single and live far from family, so I’d like to make sure my papers are organized, too, just in case. How should I begin?

Organizing your valuable papers is no small task, but it’s not rocket science, either. And there are some simple tools you can use to get started.

For example, Ohio State University Extension offers “Know Your Valuable Papers,” a 12-page fill-in-the-blank form that helps you keep track of important information and document where you keep it. The form is free to download from Click on “Home” and then “Financial Management.”

The form guides you to list information about yourself and your family, including how to reach family members in case of an emergency. Then it lists important documents most families have: birth certificates, marriage licenses, vehicle registrations, Social Security cards and similar papers, with a space to fill in where you keep the documents and where they are officially recorded.

“Know Your Valuable Papers” also includes a space to list your financial accounts, insurance policies, pension or other retirement plans, and investments. If you have a safe deposit box, you can list what you keep in it.

The first time you complete the form will likely be the most difficult. You may need to go hunting for some records, but if you do, just remember that it’s easier to do so when you’re not dealing with an emergency.

Once you’re done, you can tell a trusted friend or relative where you keep the file, just in case something happens to you. You also may want to make a copy and send it to whoever you named in your will as the executor of your estate.

You should review the form every year to make sure it’s up to date. You might consider doing so at tax time: Once you’ve finished your taxes, take out the Know Your Valuable Papers form and make any changes that are necessary.

Another useful exercise this time of year is to calculate your net worth. Net worth is simply the value of everything you own — your home, car, household goods, savings and investments — minus how much you owe — mortgage, car loan, credit cards, student loan. Doing this on an annual basis helps you determine if you’re on the right track financially. For details, see the “Net Worth” fact sheet from OSU Extension, also on

Family Fundamentals is a monthly column on family issues. It is a service of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences and its outreach and research arms, Ohio State University Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. Send questions to Family Fundamentals, c/o Martha Filipic, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210-1044, or

Dear Subscriber: This column was reviewed by Carol Miller, educator in Family and Consumer Sciences for Ohio State University Extension.

For a PDF of this column, please click here.

CFAES News Team
For more information, contact: 

Carol Miller
OSU Extension, Family and Consumer Sciences